Women talk about their periods
Compiled by Dana Wray | Visual by Lily Hoffman
Read stories about periods – from messy sex to the discomfort with your menstruating body – straight from the source, unedited and unfiltered.
When I was thirteen I started menstruating. Most coming of age novels written for and by those of us with vaginas involve some sort of big hubbub made about the phenomenon of a self cleaning uterus, but for me it went something like this:
Me, on the toilet after school: MOM
My mom, doing laundry: WHAT
Me, again: I THINK I GOT MY PERIOD
My mom: THERE ARE PADS UNDER THE SINK
And that was about it. There was a brief conversation on tampons and that I was not allowed to use them (my mom had heard about toxic shock syndrome and was terrified), but other than that all period talk was kept to a minimum.
So I went to school. I went to my friends' houses. I had no idea why I bled out of some region in my lower body sometimes, and I was okay with the ignorance, except for the first time I bled through my pants.
I was at a sleepover. It was 10 boys and me. I made the excuse that I had sat in spaghetti sauce (spaghetti sauce? we hadn't eaten anything but popcorn, but I was panicking) and ran home and that basically began the Period Reign Of Terror that cropped up every month, making me check every surface I sat down on, making me run out of the room as fast as possible, making every waking moment around other people a self-aware living hell. I worried and sweated and through six years I accumulated so many horror stories: do you want to hear? do you want to? do you want to know about an adolescent's growing terror of some mysterious organ between their legs that they had only ever seen cross sections of? do you want to know about that gut wrenching fear that your own body is betraying you? and that it will continue to betray you for month after month until you finally go through menopause?
It's not all that surprising when I say that I don't feel empowered by the fact that my uterus turns itself inside out once a month accompanied by intense cramping pains that generally limit me to a radius of five feet from my bed. I don't feel empowered by constantly worrying that I'm going to bleed through my clothes.
I especially don't feel empowered by the equation of this bleeding, uncomfortable organ with my gender – I am not a woman, and narratives that herald The Blood Flow as an undoubtable fact of being female make me feel alienated and like a very large ball of wax that is slowly melting away.
Those who feel empowered, I envy. I wonder if their teenage narrative included a congratulations upon reaching an age of menstruation. I wonder if they ever sat in a cold sweat, guts churning, trying to make it through the last few minutes of a chemistry class before running to the nurse and spending the rest of the day on their back with a hot pad over their stomach. I wonder if they see the blood on their fingers in the shower and think "oh my god, I’m made of meat, oh my god" or if they rejoice in their being human. I don't know. I wonder if they dread every social event they have to attend while a pool of blood and assorted tissue collects between their legs, viscerally reminding them with every step, "Hello, you have a vagina. Hello, you did not bear a child this month. Hello, I am your uterus and I am part of you and because you are part of the class mammalia and family of primates I am tearing out the thickened walls of myself for you."
Sometimes, I want to sew myself up.
I throw tampons in my bag. Doesn't matter if I have my period or not, I am always prepared. Recently, on a first date I reached into my purse to pull out my wallet to pay for my coffee; however, with my wallet sprung out tampons all over the cafe floor. My date was kind enough not to say anything about it, though I did get some looks from other customers. I thought I would be more embarrassed than I actually was – I figure, real men don't care, right?
Though my elementary school, health teachers assured us that “it could happen at any time”; common knowledge and pre-teen magazines told me that 16 was the magic number. Only at age 16 would you have to worry. Things might happen later if you were a competitive athlete (which I was not), but a girl’s 16th birthday was the moment when it might be best to “look into the whole matter.”
Ages 12, 13, and 14 came and passed. I wasn’t a late bloomer, and hearing each of my friends excitedly recount “the big moment” in the dark at our all-girl sleepovers ignited feelings of both nervousness and envy. But it was okay, I (and everyone else) assured myself, because my time would come.
It wasn’t until 15 that I started to feel antsy. Nowhere had I heard or read anything about what happened when nothing happened. Luckily, I wasn’t 16 yet. I hadn’t reached the point where something might be seriously wrong.
The sleepovers continued. Tales of “becoming a woman” had evolved into the moans and groans of pseudo-adult life, where the daily grind of “handling it” was the topic du jour. I nodded in sympathy but couldn’t help wondering how far behind I’d be on all the social nuances once “it finally happened.”
My 16th birthday arrived, and still nothing; time to seek professional help. Appointment after appointment, ultrasound after MRI, and I was still in the dark. It’s okay, I (and everyone else) assured myself, because no one had heard anything about a woman not getting her period.
All the giggling, all the clandestine “girls-only” talk. All the jokes about men not understanding, not having a tampon at the appropriate time, and how a whole circle of friends had synced up. I was finally told in a drab medical office, after months’ worth of barely-contained fear, that due to a rare medical condition I would never – could never – get my period. At that moment, I realized that I would always be barred from this club of femininity.
My choices seemed stark: either pretend you’re like everyone else, or declare what makes you different every time the topic of periods comes up – thus making the conversation about you and you alone. My post-17-year-old life has consisted of a lot of flat-out lying, and even more lying by omission. It’s always easier that way, because broaching this subject means shattering two myths: that women don’t talk about periods in any serious way (fun, girly conversations or attempts to make guys squirm don’t count, obviously!!!), and the even more pervasive myth that being a woman necessarily encompasses menstruation.
My medical condition affects one out of every 5,000 women; I know that I’m not the only one at McGill with these or other circumstances that prevent us from reaching this assumed milestone. Still, I’ve never talked to anyone who can truly relate, and it’s difficult to bring up the topic even with close friends and family. Because as little as we speak about women getting their periods, we speak even less about women who don’t
Last New Year's Eve I experienced a surprise and unwelcome period in the middle of having spontaneous sex in my boyfriend's parent's living room. At the time I had been on birth control for about a year, and in protest for not getting to see my long distance boyfriend for long periods of time, I made a foolish mistake and stopped taking the pills. Throughout the holidays I experienced the worst, most painful bleeding known to any woman ever. I was weak and pale and leaking blood midway through my cycle all because I didn't take my pills for 3 days. I left the Christmas dinner table early to go lie down in defeat.
So by the time New Year's Eve came around and I finally got to see him again, I thought I was in the clear but oh my god I so wasn't. The thing about spontaneous sex is that you tend to move around a lot. We'd moved from kitchen, to walls, to finally the couch. And when we stopped to turn on a light, we realized with horror the consequence of our actions. There was blood everywhere. My period blood was on the walls, on the couch, on me, on him. I started sobbing in a moment of weakness and at the betrayal of my vagina. How could it humiliate me like that? But the good news is I've chosen one of the best men on earth, who promptly shoved me in the shower, washed our clothes and wiped down the room. Thirty minutes later we were fine and on our way to a party, with nothing but the knowledge that if we could handle my distrustful, blood-sprouting vagina, we could probably handle anything.
Using a diva cup 'weirds' people out. I've been using one for almost four years (and loving it), and I've heard all the reasons from other women why they'd 'rather not' despite its incredibly low environmental and economic impact. But I think the alleged 'weirdness' really stems from the greater aversion of embracing your menstrual blood as something normal and natural and thus okay to get on your hands a little bit. We've been trained to see menstrual blood as something dirty and unwanted instead of something rather remarkable that our body is capable of. I think that using a diva cup and seeing what your body naturally produces, rather than letting it be absorbed and hidden into another product, is kind of a cool metaphor for being okay with your femininity as a whole. New-age metaphors aside, I think that if we were instead taught that periods were something biologically remarkable, rather than something to be hidden and certainly not discussed at the dinner table, then we might be more accepting of products like diva cups that do not seek to hide the process of menstruation.
I was the one of the very first girls in my grade to get my period (three cheers for being an early bloomer) and because of that, I had to kind of ‘go it alone.’ I clearly remember keeping the fact that I had gotten my period secret until the super popular girl in our grade also got it – after that there was a feeling like it was okay to disclose it to all the other girls in the grade. One of the things they never told us in sex ed (well I guess one of the many, many things they neglect) is the fact that the symptoms that come with your period could be really, really painful. Like fainting-from-the-pain-on-a-regular-basis painful. I got to learn that from firsthand experience, which ended with me being driven off the Toronto Islands in a golf cart, unable to walk and projectile vomiting from the pain. Lovely end to a grade six graduation trip. Every so often I think I may have grown out of such symptoms, only to find myself coming to after hitting the deck from pain – everywhere from on Parc on my way to a concert, to a friend’s backyard, to ambulances, to doctor’s offices and to beaches – so many fun different experiences that come along with ‘that time of the month!’